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Are student campuses not safe anymore?

A commentary on the systems that safeguard us

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and does not constitute the view of BSP.

A 21 year-old female student was molested on IIT-BHU campus on Thursday morning (November 2nd) Around 2000 students boycotted academic activities and staged a protest demanding arrest of the perpetrators, enhanced security on campus, and resignation of the institute’s director. As per preliminary report, authorities have taken action and increased security on campus.

Precautionary vs Reactionary Models

Crime in society is seen as an indicator of the general conscience and aspiration of the people. There is an established negative correlation between the prosperity and welfare of a society and crime rates in that society. Although it is not possible to reduce crime rates to zero, the kind of crimes committed gives us a window into the value system of the inhabitants. Crimes against women are one of the lowest and most demeaning forms of atr/*ocities that a society has to face. When one woman’s safety is compromised, fingers are not only raised on the perpetrator but on the society as a whole. Moreover, such a heinous crime committed inside an educational institution is damaging to the core values of society.

Once again, the systems that we have established to safeguard our citizens are often based on what I call the “reactionary” model rather than the “precautionary” model. We wait for something to go wrong before trying to fix the damage rather than evolve precautionary systems that would never let anything go wrong. From a pragmatic perspective, reactionary models are easier to enforce because predicting everything that can possibly go wrong is almost impossible. This is why precautionary security systems tend to grow complacent over time and wait for something bad to happen before springing back to action. Security cameras go bust and nobody bothers to fix them, security guards stop diligently checking identity cards, and even students start flouting rules because “as everything is going well, it will probably go well in the future as well.” This is why precautionary systems with humans in the loop tend to fail.

Analysing current reactionary security system

One of the characteristics of reactionary systems is heightened response to a failure in an attempt to contain the damage and repercussions. Historically, in the case of transgression against women, this translates to stronger monitoring and more regulations for appropriate conduction and lifestyle of women. Gradually, the rules become more restrictive and constrain the freedom of the oppressed. Policing systems evolve to restrict the movement of women around campus and more stringent monitoring systems are put in place. I am not in a position to comment on the efficacy of such an arrangement to protect women but it will surely cost the oppressed group a systematic exclusion from enjoying basic human rights such as the choice to go for a walk at 1 am without any fear - something that most of us take for granted.

When we cannot ensure the safety of residents on campus, we take away the freedom to choose how to live. This constant fear has a detrimental effect on the long-term psyche of the person whose choices are restricted due to unwanted anticipated response to those actions by others. By extension, innovation and growth are severely hampered in such a retrograde and fearsome environment.

Long-term detrimental effects on victims

What institutions and policy-makers should realise is that this approach is detrimental in the long-run as it intrinsically creates an environment where the oppressed are gradually forced to accept life with the restrictions and forget their bare minimum expectations from society. What’s worse is such systems percolate down and pollute our languages and hence our conscience with phrases and ideas, thereby strongly biassing us towards a particular narrative. For example, attire is often targeted as a means to criticise the oppressed and justify an unwanted incident.

What can be done?

What must be done to ensure that our temples of learning maintain their sanctity and by extension, society as a whole? What we need is a way to ensure the safety of everyone without infringing on anyone’s freedom. The realisation that this cannot be achieved by restricting access to certain groups and increased vigilance with an effective prosecution system is the need of the hour. Moreover, a gradual overhaul of our beliefs and biases starting right from the words we use to address victims and criminals to starting a collaborative community-driven approach to formulating rules and regulations should be the first step.

The onus of reform should shift from the victims to the transgressors who are generally men - a lifelong reform program to instil in our men a deep seated respect for women. And finally, ensuring that future laws and policies do not systematically demonise the oppressed. Building a safe campus where students get to feel “safe” requires revamping current security measures and the burden of safe-keeping the interests and aspirations of the students fall on the administration.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the author and does not constitute the view of BSP.

Written by Basil Labib.

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